With a young team and new coach, the expectations weren’t too high for the Gee-Gees men’s basketball this season. But defying the critics, the dreams and dedication of a new coach, the experience and skill of veterans and the raw talent of rookies led the Gee-Gees to an 11-11 OUA regular season record and a heart-stopping 2-1 final playoff run.
It was a challenging and disappointing beginning to the season for this young Gee-Gees team, as they fell to a low 2-6 record by Christmas. “We kept saying we were getting better. They were single digit losses; it was tough to swallow,” said head coach James Derouin, “I was never worried about our team; we were competing against some of the top teams in the country.”
With an improved second half to the season, the Gee-Gees secured third in the OUA East with an 11-11 regular season record. The Gee-Gees began to dominate in the playoffs, first ousting Laurentian and then upsetting Toronto en route to the OUA Final Four. With the much coveted berth to the CIS Final 8 only a win away, only a last second loss to Lakehead would halt the Gee-Gees momentum and end their season.
“To get as close as we did this year, it’s a blessing to get that close, but you have to take advantage of it when you get there,” said Derouin with a note of disappointment in his voice, “We were right there and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
“It’s good for our guys to learn [and get that close] and have it taken away,” said Derouin on taking a positive form a loss, “These guys won’t let that opportunity slip away again; it leaves a sour taste in our mouth. It motivates our young players to get back there [next] year.”
In highlighting the season this year, it would be impossible not to mention rookie guard Johnny Berhanemeskel, Ottawa, Ont., and third-year guard Warren Ward, London, Ont.
Ward led the Gee-Gees in scoring with 16.80 points per game and was named OUA First-Team All-Star. “As the season progressed, you saw our team get better as Warren got better,” said Derouin on Ward’s challenge in learning to lead a team, “After Christmas, he started to play really well and his numbers just got better and better, leading us into the playoffs.”
Berhanemeskel’s season was one for the record books, as he broke almost every uOttawa rookie record, led the OUA in three pointers, and was named to the OUA All-Rookie team. “Johnny’s season is something we’re hoping he can continue,” said Derouin, “He’s one of our hardest working players and we’re excited to see what he’s capable of having a year under his belt.”
The Gee-Gees youth was not only in their players, but their coaching. In his first season as head coach, Derouin knew there was a lot to learn. “There are so many things I learned this year from game to game. It was a different head space from the beginning to the end of the year.”
“It was a great, great first season,” emphasized Derouin on his first season, “The players really bought into what I was trying to do here; it ended and the next day I was ready to start again for next year.”
But with the ending of every season comes the loss of graduating players. This year, the departure of fifth-year centre Louis Gauthier, Ottawa, Ont., and fifth-year forward Nemanja Baletic, Ottawa, Ont., leaves a huge hole to be filled in the Gee-Gees roster.
Baletic was the OUA East recipient of the Ken Shields award for his outstanding achievement on the court, in the classroom and in the community. Baletic is also nominated for the President’s Award at the University of Ottawa. Gauthier was the starting centre for the Gee-Gees and his powerful presence under the basket will be missed.
“Louis and Nemanja are two very strong seniors; there’s some big holes to fill,” said Derouin. “I wish Nemanja and Louis all the best and the program will miss both of them a lot.”
“Every year teams graduate someone, and every year someone steps up,” commented Derouin looking to the future, “We have a returning of our young core, four of five starters, as well as bringing in an amazing recruiting class.”
Stay tuned to www.geegees.ca for all your Gee-Gees news and for upcoming releases on men’s basketball new recruits.